Hibernation and life …

We have spent the last ten days hibernating aboard a narrowboat. There is much to be said for confining your life to the 59 x 7 foot space available on Oakmere which, in reality, is about half that length, once you take away the fore and aft decks and the engine room.

I have been taking canal holidays off and on since 1976 so no longer feel the urge to clock hours on the cut just for the sake of it. In the wind, rain and cold there is also the possibility of a mutinous crew.  So there are the excuses – we did not move from Overwater Marina for the entire ten days.  Instead we went to the Cheshire ‘wiches’ by car – Nantwich, Northwich, Middlewich and for good measure Chester and Sandbach.  Something I had not appreciated before, there is also a Leftwich but no Rightwich 😉

Some might consider this an overly active hibernation but locked in tight of an evening with the wind and rain lashing outside and the stove at full blast, we felt like Badger and Mole in The Wild Wood.  It is also an occasion to bury heads in books and ignore the outside world.

But all we can hear
is the rain, sounding
like dwarfs rushing through thickets.
Norman MacCaig – New Flood – July 1985

... on a frosty morning at Overwater - no plans to leave the marina this week - the crew would mutiny.Sheep among the turnips ...

FMC Viceroy ...

The problem is that this sad life intrudes regardless; we were stunned to hear of the sudden death of our good friend Norman Harris.  A distinguished sportswriter, he had a 20-year career with The Sunday Times in London and also wrote for The Observer and The Times. I came to know him in his latter years through Allendale Golf Club where he was variously, Chairman, Secretary, Captain and finally, the longstanding Seniors Captain. He would be the first to admit that his golfing achievements were limited but he thoroughly enjoyed the game, loved the course at Allendale and, remarkably, sank two holes-in-one within the space of a few weeks.

Search for ‘Norman’ on this blog and some of our joint activities will show up.  I was delighted to be associated with his last four publications, producing the website for Scottie, and the book covers for his memoir Beyond Cook’s Gardens and the sports books What are You Doing Out Here and At Last He Comes.  Inspired by this association I would also enter the literary fray, an endeavour which he enthusiastically and practically supported – I am proud that the words of “Norman Harris, The Times” grace the inside cover of Golf in the Wild.

Deeply entrenched with this love of words he had a keen eye for the striking image and the two came together in his passion for film – he was, for many years, an active member of the Allendale Film Club.

His departure is deeply saddening but the timing of his exit had an almost sportsman-like perfection.  By chance he was visiting Barnes in London, the place where he lived for much of his professional career.  He had just met a long-time friend and fellow sportswriter for lunch and then gone for a swim.  A cinema outing to see The Lady in the Van was followed by a first-time visit to a Persian restaurant, all in the company of his great friend JMP (Beyond Cook’s Gardens is dedicated to this good lady).  As last days go, there is much to envy.

For many years, phone calls from Norman on a variety of topics had become a regular part of life’s routine, as had cinema and restaurant outings.  He was booked in at our home for Christmas and we were looking forward to his annual quiz. The festive period will not be the same without him, nor life in general.  Rest in peace Sir Norman, you will be missed.

(There are a number of full obituaries available online including this enlightening version at stuff.co.nz.  You can also listen to him talking on Radio New Zealand National).

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The Greatest Race in History

Last week saw the publication of At Last He Comes by Norman Harris – I am proud to be associated with the production of this book, having been responsible for the jacket design and internal graphics.  I have taken the liberty of reproducing the original InDesign cover layout as the paperback version will be missing the fold-over flaps.  This is a shame because it not only undermines the design but omits some interesting facts about Norman which are not repeated elsewhere.  Click on the image to enlarge and discover something about ‘jogging’:

The Greatest Race in History

It is the story of the marathon from the 1908 London Olympics which starts around 2 minutes 57 seconds into this silent recording:

Clermont Ferrand – 1972

Whilst in the attic retrieving some old Kodacolor negatives I came across a Motor Racing folder containing some notes from a trip to the French Grand Prix.  In 1972 I hitched through France following the Grand Prix circus down to Clermont Ferrand relying almost entirely on the good will of the French nation for free rides.

1972 French GPBy and large it was only 2CV drivers who responded to our outstretched thumbs; it wasn’t that others just drove by, it was the Gallic gestures and insults they felt obliged to shout from their car windows – my schoolboy French was ropey at best but I am certain it wasn’t Bon Voyage.  They seem a nation of extremes, one half adopting an almost fascist reaction to two young kids trying to get a free ride whilst others demonstrated extreme kindness to complete strangers.  When we arrived late into Clermont Ferrand on the eve of a Grand Prix our last 2CV driver persistently searched the town for a spare room and when this proved unsurprisingly fruitless, he let us bed down in a friend’s garret at the top of an ageing office building, something akin to an opium den.  The description from my diary of the time is a little more colourful – six foot square, smelling of hash, swaying in the wind and done up like a voodoo temple, this was home for the nightBy the time we hit the sack it could have been Buck house for all it mattered…..it was dry (as long as it didn’t rain) and warm (almost too warm) and once asleep this junkie’s pad was paradise.  Then, my long-suffering girlfriend needed a toilet that wasn’t there – posterity doesn’t record what happened next.

The next day Chris Amon drove the race of his life in his Matra Simca MS120, leading the field by 10 seconds before a puncture forced him in for a tyre change.  Losing almost a minute in the pits he re-joined the race in ninth and then drove like a man possessed to finish third.  Once again, the fire burned brightly but with no reward, proving yet again that he was the greatest driver never to win a Grand Prix.  Talking to fellow Kiwi and sports writer Norman Harris some years later he described such occasions like this:  “It’s very like ‘form’ in cricket or golf.  But you wouldn’t be aware of form when you’re driving along a public road, it’s when you’re driving at the limits – cornering, correcting it as it’s sliding rather than just catching it at the end, this is the thing.”  Clermont Ferrand felt like a turning point; it just seemed from that from then on he was fated never to win and maybe he felt the same, certainly the fire burned a lot less brightly at Brands Hatch just two weeks later.

When you look at how the cars were prepared for these events you can only wonder at the sanity of all those involved; this oily rag scene looks medieval compared to the operating theatre conditions that prevail in modern Formula 1.  The MS120 is not on jacks, it is supported by a couple of spare springs:

Matra MS120CAnd then there were the mechanics – these two look like extras from a Jean-Luc Godard film; they don’t exactly inspire confidence:

Team Matra mechanics

Great Golf Holes of the North – Stocksfield’s 9th

The Newcastle Journal is continuing the series Great Golf Holes of the North, this week covering Stockfield’s wonderful 9th, a downhill par 5 briefly described here by Norman Harris:

GOLF holes that are this long – 501 yards – don’t often fall all the way from tee to green. That’s a lot of falling. You could say that on a golf course it’s the nearest thing to a ski run.

Now, this is a very thrilling prospect, as our main photo shows. The irony is that many higher-handicap players inadvertently steer the ball to the right. Faced with oak trees down the left and oak trees down the right they subconsciously over-compensate in avoiding what’s on the left.

The rest of the article can be found at:  http://tinyurl.com/8nzmpl4

As ever, the success of landscape photography is largely attributable to being in the right place at the right time.  The English summer has been so wet and cloudy for so long that when a bright morning appears you have to grab the opportunity, particularly when there is a printing deadline and no guarantee that the weather will oblige ever again.  The upside of this bleak summer is that the English countryside is looking very green and lush and so I have not needed to adjust the saturation, everything is saturated already (a very poor Photoshop joke).  I took these photographs early on 28th August when the light was still casting long shadows and cumulus clouds drifted like barrage ballons across an empty sky.  Click on the images to see the uncompressed, less fuzzy versions.

The ninth at StocksfieldThe golfer is Paul Malia, an early bird with an elegant swing who made his entrance right on cue, parring the hole – some days everything falls into place.  The long view north is across the Tyne Valley towards Ovington.

This second picture is the view back up the fairway from the green – a slightly different version to the one chosen by the Journal (the golfers are less obvious but the cloud patterns are better):

The ninth at Stocksfield

Great Golf Holes of the North – Allendale’s 17th

Today, July 18th 2012, the Newcastle Journal has published number three in a series of Great Golf Holes of the North, this time the 17th at Allendale, my home club.  The fine words were by Norman Harris and the picture is mine.

Just occasionally events fall into place.  Despite our awful summer, the weather briefly brightened, the view down the valley cleared, one of our members (Andy Morgan) turned up on cue and chipped a ball onto the green, the camera was already on station 5 meters up a pole, the wireless shutter triggered, the ball was caught in mid-flight (I promise it wasn’t added afterwards, just slightly enlarged) and it all fell into place.  Norman was eventually persuaded that this was the best view of the hole and with some ‘post-production’ figures added to the tee, everyone was content.

Then it appears in newsprint and the detail that provides the atmosphere has gone, the contrast has disappeared and there is no depth to the picture.  So, to set the record straight, here is the original – still not as good as the high resolution version (WordPress compression does it no favours) but still a marked improvement on the newsprint version.  Click on the picture to see a slightly enlarged version.

Postscript:  It turns out the Journal also fiddled with one of the paragraphs.  This is what Norman Harris actually said:

Intriguingly, there was once an issue with this 17th hole. When the course was established in 1992 the nine holes were played twice from the same tees. Then came the idea of having alternative tees on the second nine.

A number of players thought that a retrograde step – though possibly  this resistance was all down to the new 17th seeming to be just too difficult. Not least by the ladies, who opted to play their tee shot from the drop area.  Now, they face up to the challenge of clearing the canyon, regardless of the possible consequences.

Great Golf Holes of the North

Well, it has appeared in today’s Newcastle Journal but the reproduction on newsprint is always disappointing.  The original shows quite a lot of detail through the mist and into Acomb on the other side of the Tyne Valley – most of this has disappeared.  Maybe I am too critical – here are the two versions for comparison:

Fine words Norman.  Actually the image above suffers some more by being scanned, so the comparison is not entirely valid.  Anyway, this is as nature/Photoshop intended:

In fairness to the Journal, the online version is almost identical apart from some injudicious tree felling: http://tinyurl.com/cdpmsqg

Allendale Golf Club and the 17th next!

Bellingham

Finally managed to time a trip to Bellingham in good weather.  The course was looking excellent although it was a pity nothing was in bloom.  The assignment was for a Signature Holes article being produced by Norman Harris (The Sunday Times and Observer) for The Journal.  The 18th at Bellingham, Boggle Hole, is the first of a series.  The attached panorama will not be used so I don’t feel bad about pre-publishing, particularly as I risked life and limb on the bar roof capturing it – don’t look too closely for the hand crafted stitch.  The pictures that will be used were all captured from a 17 foot Brodex pole – a bit like fishing – cast and hope.  It is difficult to photograph – the two challenging aspects are the two ravines on the approach and it is only side-on that they become visible.  Unfortunately the panorama does not suit the proposed layout for the article.

Image